The Unknown Citizen Summary Notes
The Unknown Citizen Author
An English-American poet, Auden’s poetry was noted for its stylistic and technical achievement, its engagement with politics, religion, and its variety in tone, form, and content. As a poet, Auden is a chameleon capable of writing in many different forms and styles. He is considered a modernist writer whose poetry had popular appeal. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1948 for his long poem The Age of Anxiety (1947). This title became a popular catch- phrase for describing the modem era. Auden was aprolific writer of prose essays and reviews on literary, political, psychological, and religious subjects. He worked on documentary films, poetic plays, and other forms of performance. He was both, controversial and influential. After his death, his poems became known to a much wider public through films, broadcasts, and popular media.
The Unknown Citizen Summary
The given poem ‘The Unknown Citizen is by Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973). He is considered a Modernist writer whose poetry had popular appeal. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1948 for his long poem ‘The Age of Anxiety. He wrote ‘The Unknown Citizen in 1939. The poetry is written in the voice of a fictional government bureaucrat whose decisions affect the lives of people he has never met. It uses good old-fashioned humor to protest against the numbing effects; of modem life.
(TOJS/07M378 This Marble Monument is erected by the state)
“He was found by the Bureau of statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modem sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint”
Auden begins the poem by stating an inscription on the tomb of an unknown government servant-‘To JS/07M378. This Monument is Erected by the State’. The government had erected the tomb commemorating an unknown, faceless, nameless government worker, for his exceptional service and good conduct as a government bureaucrat. He is known only be the number. The ‘Bureau of Statistics’ a government organization that is similar to a census department which investigates the character and conduct of citizens secretly – had found him to be without fault. There was no ‘official complaints’ against him in his entire service. The reports compiled by the department on his character and conduct prove that he was blemish less in his entire career as a government official. He could be regarded as a saint, not because he sought salvation but because he served the government perfectly
“For in everything he did he served the Greater Community
Expect for the war till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.”
This government official selflessly served the ‘Greater Community’ — his employers, higher officials and in general the government. He was very punctual and had never been absent from duty without reason expect during the war. He had served in the army to defend his country, like any other patriotic citizen of a country. This government official worked in an automobile factory named judge Motors Inc’.
“Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views
For his union reports that he paid his dues
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our social psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink”
The government official maintained the standards expected of him by the authorities. He was not a ‘ scab ’ – (a worker who refuses to join a labour union). He worked hard and did not break any rules. He did not have any ‘odd views – against the government. The reports compiled by the labour union shows that he was always prompt in paying his union membership fees. The ‘Social Psychology’ workers who investigate and study and keep truck of the public behaviour of the citizens found that he was ‘popular ’ – well – liked by his mates (friends). He also liked an occasional drink. He was a normal, law – abiding citizen.
“The press are convinced that he bought a paper everyday
And his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his health card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured”
The dead government official had bought a news paper each day, that is, he read the propaganda published by the biased press (Media) and had no adverse reaction to the advertisements in the news paper. He was in good health and did not have any life threatening diseases. He was once admitted to a hospital (what he sufferedis not mentioned) but he left the hospital after recovering from the disease.
“Both producers Research and High – Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment plan
And he had everything necessary to the Modern Man
A phonograph, a radio, a car and frigidaire”
This dead citizen was sensible, as reported by the ‘Producers Research and High – Grade Living’ (another consumer research wing of the government). He availed the full advantage of the ‘Installment plan’ to buy everything necessary to the Modem Man. He owned a phonograph (music player) a radio and a refrigerator, which proved that his standard of living was high. He had everything a modem man needed at home.
“Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year
When there was peace, he was for peace, when there was war, he went,
The government researchers’ investigation into the dead official’s Public Opinions was found to be impeccable. He wasn’t a critical thinker but a perfect citizen He expressed proper opinion according to the Occasions. He supported peace in peacetime and would don his army uniform and go fight the enemies of the motherland during wars.
“He was married and added five children to the population
Which our Eugenist says was the right number of a parent of his generations.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education”
The dead public servant was married and had the appropriate. the number of five children, according to the Eugenicist. (The practice of controlled selective breeding of human populations to improve the populations’ genetic composition.) He never interfered with the education of his children which we can deduce that he trusted the government would import the appropriate education to his children.
“Was he free, was he happy, the question is absurd
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard”
Here the speaker poses questions-Was he free? Was he happy? The speaker is showing an inappropriate humour. It is absurd to ask such a question when the man is already dead, Now, it does not matter whether he was free or happy. Even the state (Bureau of statistics) does not know anything about these two immeasurable qualities freedom and happiness.
The speaker knows that those in power have put in place all that is necessary to the citizen through propaganda and a more effective penalty.
The poem is a satirical and disturbing comment on a totalitarian government.
The Unknown Citizen Glossary
scab : a worker who refuses to join a labor union
frigidaire : fridge
Eugenist : (Eugenicist) a person who believes in the practice of controlled selective breeding of human populations (ashy sterilization) to improve the population’s genetic composition
The Unknown Citizen Questions & Answers
What is the Bureau of Statistics?
The Bureau of Statistics is an investigative government department that collects information regarding the citizens of the country.
What does the marble monument signify?
The Marble Monument is a symbol of the Modem society’s true values. lt is erected by the government to commemorate a model citizen of a totalitarian government. It signifies the less of one’s individuality and uniqueness in the modem, cynical, and technologically advanced society.
What did the report say about ‘The Unknown Citizen?
The report says that the unknown citizen was a model worker who served the greater community well. He had a blemishless record in his career. There were no complaints against him and is regarded as a Modem saitn.
Greater in “greater community44 refers to __________.
Greater in greater community refers to government organizations and the authorities.
Fudge Motors Inc. was satisfied with the unknown citizen because of __________.
The Social Psychology Department gave a negative opinion about the unknown citizen. T/F
Why did the ‘Producers Research’ declare the unknown citizen sensible?
The Producers Research declared the unknown citizen sensible because he took the benefit of the advantages of the Installment plan, to acquire a phonograph, a radio, a car, and a fridge.
List out the different departments which analyze the unknown citizen and discuss their analyses.
- Bureau of statistics
- Fudge motors inc
- Labor union
- Social Psychology
- Health department
- Producers Research and High-Grade living
- Public Opinion research dept
- teachers (education department)
How does society evaluate the modern man?
The government pays tribute to the Modem, Model man by erecting a Marble monument even though he is identified as number JS/07/M/378.
The praise ment for the unknown citizen is nothing more than a standard of approval by the govemmnet. The analysis from the Bureau of Statistics, social psychology, works highgrade living and other specialists are extremely important to grade and catagorize the unknown modem citizen. The Modem citizen in the poem is seen as some one who led an average fife. He followed rules, he had the appropriate number of children and he never got fired from his job. He had a steady social life and he was popular – well – liked by his friends. He bought the news paper.
His reaction to the advertisements (Propaganda) was typical* his responses to the questionaires were as expected by the authorities. He was a law – abiding citizen. He owned everything a Modem man should. He was sensible enough to avail the installment schemes to buy the needed consumer goods. He was healthy and was hospatilized only once in his life and was cured of the disease. When his country was at peace, he was a pacifist and when the nation was at war, he donned his army uniform to fight for his country. Though he was a member of the labour union, he did not involve himself in its activities, but paid his union subscriptions promptly.
The Modem Model citizen is identified by his Materialism, conformism manipulation, encroachment of technology, lack of true freedom and loss of values. He has no notion of freedom or happiness.
The Bureau of statistics, union, and Eugenics, Fudge motors, High-grade living, social psychology represent the ‘Greater Community’ of the Modem Society while the unknown citizen as a lesser community ofthe society.
How was the Fudge Motors Inc. Sure that the unknown citizen was happy?
Furdge Motor’s Inc was sure that he was happy because he never got fired and satisfied his employers. He was a member of the labour union and paid his union subscriptionpromptly. His record on his union shows it was sound, because he never raised his voice against the company.
What makes the question ‘was he happy? ’ absurd?
At the end of the poem the poet asks two important questions, ‘was he free’ was he appy. No government statistics can never answer these kinds of questions. By asking these questions, the poet is drawing our attention to the question of freedom and happiness. Therefore, such a question in this context is ‘absurd’. The only way for an individual to survive in a totalitarian society is to conform and obey. The unknown citizen is devoid of my urge for self-assertion. The poet suggests that our society has created a set of rules and regulations in which individuals are supposed to follow and work as the system dictates. Hence they lose their individuality ideal citizen is the one who fulfills the social expections of behavior.
The poem is a powerful reminder that, the State, Government and Bureaucracy we create, can become a faceless, indifferent and often, cruel machine. Elaborate.
The Poem ‘Unknown Citizen’ is a satire on the modem industrial society. In this society man has lost all his individuality and identity. He has become a soulless, heartless unit of the state. He has been reduced to a mere number. He is expected to act and behave according to the standards set by the state.
Auden was one the first to realize that the totalitarian socialist state whould be no Utopsia and that man there would be reduced to the position of a cog in the wheel.
The Citizen to whom the monument has been built has been found to be without fault. He was a saint not because he searched for god but because he served the government perfectly. He did not get dismissed from his job. He was member ofthe union. The report shows that it was a balanced union and did not take extreme views on anything. The Social Psychology workers found that he was popular among his fellow workers and had a drink with them now and them. He also bought a newspapr everyday. He reacted to the advistisements normally. He had good health, although he was admitted in a hospital once, he came out quite cured. The unknown citizen was sensible enough to buy consumer goods on installments. He had everything a Modem man needed at home. Moreore, this ideal citizen was found to be sensible in his views. When there was peace, he supported it. But when there was he was ready to fight. He didn’t hold any personal views on anything. He had the right number of children and he did not argue with the education they got. The state did not known whether he was free or happy.
In a totalitarian state a citizen will have no scope to develop his initiative or to assert his individuality. He must conform to the states dictates.
The picture of this unknown, faceless, nameless citizen is ironically presented in the poem. Auden demonstrates the glaring disparity between the complete statistical information about the citizen complied by the state and the and sad ina adequacy of the judgement made about him – “Was he free? Was he happy?” Statistics cannot sum an individual’s psychological facts. The Physical factors are inadequate to evaluate human happiness or their notion of freedom.
The word ‘unknown’ means ordinary or obscure. These ordinary citizens of the states remain obscure without a name or feme. They live and die unknown.
According to the poem, who is free and who is happy?
The poem ‘The Unknown Citizen’ the poet with Auden suggests that we would be happy and free if we broke out of the role model of an ideal citizen, as expected by a government.
“The Unknown Citizen” is a man identified only by a combination ofletters and number similar to that in the Indian Aadhar identification card. The man is dead. The government erects a Marble Monument to commorate his exemplary life as an abiding citizen. The qualities that the citizen possessed are described only externally, i.e., materalistically, from the point of the view of the governments organizations such as the Bureau of statistic. This man had lived an entiredly average life and therefore the government deems he lived an exemplary life. The poem is a satire of standardization at the expense of individualism.
By describing the ‘Unknown Citizen’ through the eyes of various government organizations, the poem criticizes standardization and the modem state’s relationship with its citizens. The questions was he free? Was he happy? seems absurd in the context. ‘The statistical method” ofjudging the life of a citizen cannot analyze such questions.
No citizens can be happy and free when the government of a country does not apply itself to governing but not in manipulating its citizens to confirm to some set standards devised by the government.
Is the poem a criticism of American life in particular, or could it be applied to other nations also?
The poem certainly criticizes all the nations ofthe world. Auden lived during the age of the great totalitarian dictators. Hitler,’*’ Mussolini, Stalin and Franco and saw the rise of the bureaueratic state. His poems deal with both of these themes. His poems address the hubris and greed that led dictators to amass armies, brainwash their citizens and unleash war upon the world. He catalogues the various ways the bureaucracy keeps tabs on its citizens and tries to reduce them to statistics and figures the poem the poet warns of blind acceptance of Public expectations the loss ofhe individual to conform with the state. The government uses consumerisum as a tool of economic and political cannot. There is no longer a collision between private and public. The public world has consumed the private. •
What will be the future of our society, according to Auden?
Auden was not describing, or satirizing, today’s society, but the society of1939 at the time of his writing the poem. Nevertheless, there are issues that were of concern to Auden then which remain pressing today—arguably far more so. The first issue is the idea that people represent mere statistics to governments, with data processing being used as a means of keeping tabs on citizens. Auden is criticizing the tendency of governments to treat everybody according to how closely they adhere to societal norms; anyone who is not “happy” would surely have made this known to the government—except that the government equates happiness with being statistically normal and the same as everyone else. Another issue is the idea that governments are always monitoring their citizens—this idea was just beginning when Auden wrote this poem, but is of far greater concern today.
Auden’s complaint in this poem is, largely, about the issue of conformity; in modem society, our individuality is eroded by the fact that we are forced into a particular life path that characterizes us as a “good” citizen. The Unknown Citizen in the poem is celebrated for having served his “Community” by essentially contributing to it in a monetary way—he has performed Well for his employers and has never held “odd” views, and he has. Auden’s complaint in this poem is, largely, about the issue of conformity; in modem society, our individuality is eroded by the feet that we are forced into a particular life path which characterizes us as a “good” citizen.
The Unknown Citizen in the poem is celebrated for having served his “Community” by essentially contributing to it in a monetary way—he has performed well for his employers and has never held “odd” views, arid he has served his country in times of war and has paid his dues to his workers’ union. Even his interactions with his friends have been measured by the State in terms of how far these showed him to be normal: being “popular” and producing the appropriate numbers of children are the elements that indicate he has served his country “well.’’ There is no consideration of the man’s actual feelings or genuine opinions— they are only relevant so long as the ones he holds are “proper.” Essentially, the citizen is celebrated for having been exactly like everybody else; this is what makes him worthy of celebration—he has produced the right number of children, fought in the correct wars, and purchased the right material goods (“a phonograph, a radio, a car and a Frigidaire”)
Auden is not necessarily critiquing socialist societies particularly; his focus on materialism and employment, if anything, suggests a critique of the capitalist idea that humans exist to produce wealth for thenation. Rather, he is critiquing the idea that in all modem societies what is really expected of us is to be statistically valuable. The government does not really care whether we are “free” or “happy5—so long as we do what we are told and conform, we will be “good citizens” (but we will also not be remembered).
Auden’s complaint in this poem is, largely, about the issue of conformity; in modem society, our individuality is eroded by the fact that we are forced into a particular life path which characterizes us as a “good” citizen. There is no consideration of the man’s actual feelings or genuine opinions—they are only relevant so long as the ones he holds are “proper.” Essentially, the citizen is celebrated for having been exactly like everybody else; this is what makes him worthy of celebration—he has produced the right number of children, fought in the correct wars, and purchased the right material goods (“a phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire”). Auden is not necessarily critiquing socialist societies particularly; his focus on materialism and employment, if anything, suggests a critique of the capitalist idea that humans exist to produce wealth for the nation. Rather, he is critiquing the idea that in all modem societies what is really expected of us is to be statistically valuable.
The government does not really care whether we are “free” or “happy”—so long as we do what we are told and conform, we will be “good citizens” (but we will also not be remembered) .Auden was remarking on the utter inane bureaucracy of modem semi-socialist societies. The unknown citizen, so ordinary in every way, should deserve an honored spot in the epitome of social governments. Through the use of irony. Auden is pointing out that honoring such an individual is outside the realm of actuality. While the modem society celebrates individuals with individual achievements, the poem flips that idea on i its head and celebrates the unknown and average person.
The poet is sending out a warning in many ways. The anonymous nature of the unknown citizen is a comment on governments encouraging communalism versus freedom The last’ lines of the poem Comment on how the citizen was perfect in every way and inquires if he was really free. The utopian answer is that if he wasn’t free, surely ”we” would have known about it. This is really the sticking point of the poem By giving up our individuality in the world and doing only that which is expected or demanded of us, regardless of the circumstances, then we forfeit our freedom as an individual.
The final thought on the matter is contrary to the underlying irony. Auden argues it is possible to live an entire life as an unknown citizen and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, but you will never know freedom.